I remember the first time it happened. It feels like it was just last night. My memories of that day so clear, how scared I was. I should have gone in with the other students, it was siesta time according to the school’s timetable.
The human body is designed to crave a nap sometime in the afternoon hours, during siesta, your body refreshes itself, we are told. Back in the day, before I went to boarding school, my parents tried their best to ensure we took part in this ritual. Although as I think back now, I am tempted to think that one of the reasons they may have tried to enforce this culture was to keep us in the house, away from going outside to play with the other children, and not just to keep our bodies refreshed.
Ours is a middle-class family and my parents are working people. This means they were often times not present to ensure we adhered to this instruction. My big sister was therefore put in charge. Unknown to my parents, she, in turn, passed the instruction down to me to enforce while she hung out with her friends, came back at intervals to ensure everything was in place. She was my supervisor. I was not a sporty person while growing up, as a matter of fact, I am still not one. I didn’t keep a lot of friends either. So, I didn’t have any issue with compliance. I looked forward to taking a nap in the afternoon.
So, why would I rather take a nap on an uncomfortable desk instead of getting it from a less hard surface? My neighbors! The boarding school I attended was for the three highest grades before University. I enrolled in SSS1, which is the school’s lowest grade. The school ran a functional mentorship program; a guidance and counseling services, as well as an active Vice Principal for Academics, who was very much involved in the students’ academic achievement. This mentorship program didn’t end in the classrooms, it was also extended to our living areas, the hostels. As it were, when an SSS1 student registers, she is paired with people in the upper classes. Hence, she lives together with someone from SSS2 and SSS3 classes. The aim is that they look after each other and live like a family. Perhaps this was designed to ensure the students do not feel the void of leaving home.
I had very good neighbors. I remember being intrigued by their popularity in the school. I was also mesmerized by the fact that they both took a liking to me immediately. I liked them too. They were pretty girls and almost everyone in the school wanted to be associated with them. This meant that our ‘house corner’ was always populated by other students during siesta time and sometimes after Lights Out. I knew that I would get none or a little nap time if I was to go to the hostel that fateful day, so I chose to sleep on my desk in class instead.
With my hands folded on my desk to make it a little bit comfortable for my head, I dozed off. I may have been in a dream or not. All the minutes blurred into one. With all the students back in their hostels, the classroom block was empty. I was enjoying my sleep in serenity until I was not. I was gasping for air. I could not move any part of my body. I was literally muzzled by an unseen smoke-like creature. Somehow, my lips seemed to be the only part of my body I could still move. I remember wondering if this was how I was going to die. I thought of heaven; a place filled with good literary books. Helplessly, I kept saying “The Blood of Jesus” just like I was taught to do in Sunday school when faced with any difficult situation.
I had never experienced anything like that before. I never heard of sleep paralysis until a few years later. A state of being unable to move while conscious. It occurs when a person passes the stages of wakefulness and sleep.
A few days ago, when it happened again, I knew the feeling too well. I tried to take little breaths and assured myself to go right back when the feeling passes and get enough sleep.